Sunday, June 10, 2007

Star Questions Rokita's Business-Funded Trip

The Star's "Behind Closed Doors" column reveals that Secretary of State Todd Rokita's trip to Switzerland was financed by former Secretary of State Ed Simcox' Indiana Energy Association after Rokita solicited the money from Simcox "so he could pursue some economic development projects." The column reads:

The good news is Secretary of State Todd Rokita didn't use taxpayer dollars to pay for his trip to Switzerland.

That also may be the bad news.

Rokita, whose job as secretary of state includes Indiana's securities and business services divisions, appealed to corporations to fund his trip. The Indiana Energy Association -- a trade group that includes 15 utilities, including Indianapolis Power & Light Co., and is headed by former Secretary of State Ed Simcox -- ponied up $10,000.

Rokita, who left May 29 and returns Monday, sent a letter March 13 to Simcox, soliciting the money so he could pursue some economic development projects.

Simcox responded with a check and a letter telling Rokita he "appreciated our friendship."

Jerold Bonnet, Rokita's general counsel, said Rokita attended an international business conference at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland from May 30 to June 2. Since then, Rokita has traveled around having meetings with such groups as the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, Nestle and the Swiss Bankers Association.

Bonnet said the secretary of state's office does not regulate the energy association and only indirectly regulates its members. This situation, he said, was no different than when businesses donate money to renovate the governor's residence or fund activities at public schools.

Julia Vaughn, policy director for the watchdog group Common Cause/Indiana, called the solicitation "completely inappropriate."

"For the secretary of state to be out shilling for dollars among the corporate community, people who in theory he has some oversight over, is outrageous," she said. "The trip itself is highly questionable as being in any way related to his official duties."

Rokita, calling from the Zurich airport, said he didn't "see any ethical violation here. The taxpayers aren't picking up the tab."

"I'm going to want to do this when we can to stick our oar in the water and pull ahead and do some things other secretaries of state haven't done before," he said.

Observant AI readers may recall that members of Simcox' organization were prominent participants in Gov. Daniels' recent trade mission to Europe. Simcox' nephew, Nate Feltman, is the head of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. When I used to lobby the legislature several years ago, Simcox was always popular among legislators, and I assure you it had nothing to do with his bad hair piece. Rather, the floor seats he had to every Pacers game were ever the hot commodity. When he wasn't handing out Pacer tickets, he was leading lawmakers in prayer sessions at the State House. You have to give the guy credit, he knows how to peddle influence.


Wilson46201 said...

On the taxpayer's dime, the Indiana Secretary of State had a table at Indy Gay Pride. Good for them!

I asked the two women staffing it exactly who paid for Todd Rokita's junket to Switzerland. Both seemed flustered - finally one stated it was paid for with private funds. I persisted questioning but that all they'd say: "private funds".

Why all the secrecy with the public? What are Todd Rokita and Ed Simcox up to? What does the Secretary of State have to do with the soaring price of gasoline?

Anonymous said...

Uh, Wilson...

Simcox, a genuinely nice guy, heads up the Indiana Electric Association. Which has nothing to do with the cost of gasoline. It's the trade group for Indiana's investor-owned electric utilities.

Still, it's shameful that Todd trolled them for dollars, and that they ponied up. Its' hard to imagine the mindset that thunk this up.

Simcox is a former SOS, too.

I'm wondering if the check was amde out to ole' Todd personally or as SOS, in which case it must run through state coffers. It'd be interesting to get an FOI in on THAT expense report.

Gary R. Welsh said...

I would point out that members of Congress are constantly soliciting money from certain not-for-profit organizations to finance their so-called "fact-finding" trips. Typically, these organizations are nothing more than front groups for business and other special interest groups.

Wilson46201 said...

It's truly amazing what a concerned Congresscritter can learn about nature, the environment and global warming while out on golf courses accompanied by knowledgeable and informed lobbyists!

Anonymous said...

Still nobody has explained why the Secretary of State was on an oversees economic development mission, much less an energy mission.

Niether has anything to do with the Constitutional or statutory duties of his office.

Anonymous said...

Don't you get it?

He manufactured "evidence" that there was massive "Voter Fraud" in order to pander to his party's right-wing. Mission accomplished. Unproblem solved.

Similarly, there's no official duty relating to this trip. He manufactured it, so, in his peabrain, it's real. He has no business performing economic development duties for Indiana. It is not his job.

I am pretty sure the ghost employment statutes exempt elected office holders. If not, did he take vacation time? Did he accept state pay while on this trip, because it has to qualify as a vacation? It can't be anything else.

The time his staff had to spend advancing, handling press, and other issues, related to this trip, should be calculated. The value should be contributed to the state treasury by Todd and his benefactor(s).

And if he's on vacation, I couldn't care less where he goes.

Come to think of it, can someone find some comp time for this blowhard and give him about three years of paid time off?